HandsNFeet Foundation a ‘pipeline’ to homeless

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Approached by a homeless man on a street in Charlotte on a winter’s day five years ago, Clay Peddycord rolled down his car window and, instead of cash, gave the man a pair of gloves he had on his seat.

“He didn’t really want the gloves at first,” says Peddycord, director of quality assurance at Flores & Associates, a Charlotte-based third-party administrator of flexible spending and COBRA accounts for employers that has over 600 clients in 33 states. “But the next day, I saw him wearing the gloves.”

A year later, Peddycord purchased half-a-dozen pairs of gloves, kept them in his car during cold weather, and handed them out to homeless people when they asked him for cash.

He also suggested to Renee Pennington, assistant to Mario Flores, managing partner and president of Flores & Associates, that providing gloves for homeless and needy people could become the focus of the company’s annual giving.

The result was the HandsNFeet Foundation, an all-volunteer charitable foundation the company launched in 2011.

With contributions from employees and their families and friends, and from companies that Flores & Associates does business with, as well as drives as schools, churches and other groups that have collected money and clothing items, the foundation donated 2,561 pairs of gloves and socks in 2011, more than five times its goal.

And this year, the foundation has enough gloves and socks to exceed its goal of 20,000 items.

Big boosts came from Thorlo, a Statesville manufacturer of socks that initially donated 1,200 pairs and then agreed to send 300 pairs a month, and from Renfro, a Mount Airy manufacturer that pledged 6,000 pairs of socks for 2012.

And Rack Room Shoes, another Flores client, donated 200 pairs of shoes.

“It’s gone much better and faster than we dreamed,” Peddycord says. “Our own network of good people we do business with has caused this to grow.”

Through partnerships, the foundation provides the items to six local agencies, which distribute or make them available to their homeless and needy clients.

Those agencies include Crisis Assistance Ministry, Charlotte Rescue Mission, Urban Ministry Center, A Child’s Place, Catherine’s House, and Serve Charlotte’s Homeless.

Crisis Assistance Ministry, for example, distributes gloves, socks and  shoes through its Free Store.

And on Thursday nights, the foundation takes 100 or more pairs of socks to the meal service that Serve Charlotte’s Homeless provides in the Hal Marshall Building at the entrance at 618 N. College St.

With $17,000 in cash donations it has received, the foundation has made bulk purchases of discounted gloves and socks, and also has made contributions of $500 each to Crisis Assistance Ministry and Charlotte Rescue Mission to buy mass transit passes for their clients so they can get to jobs or job interviews.

And it promoted Jeans Day on Nov. 9, encouraging employers to let their employees wear jeans or a special item to work in exchange for a donation of $5 or more to HandsNFeet, and has launched an initiative to produce and distribute holiday greeting cards on behalf of businesses to their clients and customers in return for a contribution to the foundation.

The foundation’s vision, Peddycord says, is to work with Flores’ client companies, engage its employees in the community, and partner with homeless agencies to serve their clients and families.

“We see ourselves as a pipeline,” he says.

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